SGW Lawyer A Legacy of Service : Page 2
Sussan, Greenwald & Wesler Sussan, Greenwald & Wesler was founded as a general practice firm over 40 years ago. In 1975, when Theodore Sussan experienced first-hand the legal issues involving the education of his autistic son, he was obliged to gain an in-depth understanding and appreci-ation for these issues and the educational rights of special needs children. This, in turn, led to his focus on special education law.
Sussan, Greenwald & Wesler
Staci J. Greenwald, Jayne M. Wesler, Lenore Boyarin, Alex Hilsen, Greer Gurland
Sussan, Greenwald & Wesler was founded as a general practice firm over 40 years ago. In 1975, when Theodore Sussan experienced first-hand the legal issues involving the education of his autistic son, he was obliged to gain an in-depth understanding and appreciation for these issues and the educational rights of special needs children. This, in turn, led to his focus on special education law.
Sussan, Greenwald & Wesler is recognized as one of the leading special education law firms in New Jersey, having helped thousands of special needs children receive access to the educational opportunities they might otherwise not have had. Our efforts on behalf of our clients have helped to set legal precedent in the New Jersey and Federal Courts.
Our success rests in part on the broad perspective we take in addressing the legal needs of our clients. We are equally prepared to advocate in a school district IEP meeting as we are to litigate in the courtroom. We explore and maximize all strategic opportunities to help parents achieve their goals for their children.
The firm’s success is also a function of the legal acumen of our attorneys, each of whom has a wealth of experience, not just in the law, but also in special education itself. Each attorney is professionally credentialed in another discipline. In addition, all of our firm attorneys are parents of children with special needs. Hence, from a legal, special education and personal perspective – we’ve been there, we understand.
We are proud of what we do, proud of the results we’ve been able to achieve, and proud that, through our efforts, the vision of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) continues to be realized.
We use a team approach to handle issues regarding your special needs child. This allows you greater access to attorneys when you encounter difficulties in dealing with your school district, or as emergencies arise.
Real-Life Experience in Special Education
Sussan, Greenwald & Wesler attorneys are all degreed and licensed professionals, all of which advance their work in the special education arena. We have actual life experience working in schools, teaching, assessing, developing, counseling, and implementing programs for children.
Our success is directly related to the hands-on, whole-child approach we take in the detailed matter of your case. Our goal is to work with you to determine the services to which your child is entitled – and to get them as expeditiously as possible.
Experienced and Insightful Assistance for Special Needs Children
Parents of special needs children should be fully informed of their child’s rights so they can take part in developing appropriate strategies for educational and financial planning. Both Federal and New Jersey laws provide specific rights and procedural protections for children with disabilities and their families.
Understanding Special Needs Trusts
Through a special needs trust, a disabled beneficiary can receive gifts, lawsuit settlements, and other funds without being denied eligibility for many income-dependent government programs. Our attorneys draft these trust documents so that funds set aside for the disabled child (the beneficiary) won’t be considered as belonging to the beneficiary when the government determines eligibility.
Such trusts are frequently created for a child with special needs, even though the child may reach adulthood by the time the trust is created or funded. Such trusts can also be set up within a will as a way for someone to leave assets to a disabled child.
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
The nation’s special education law, the IDEA, provides billions of dollars in federal funding to help states and local communities provide special education opportunities for approximately six million students with varying degrees of disability.
In exchange for federal funding, IDEA requires states to provide a free appropriate public education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment. The statute also outlines a detailed “due process” procedure to ensure that all classified students receive FAPE.
In 2010, the U.S. Department of Education published a report acknowledging the 35th anniversary of IDEA. The report highlighted many of the achievements gained as a result of this legislation, including an increase in college enrollment and a decrease in high school dropout rates.
Areas of Service
• Autism Spectrum Disorders
• Asperger’s Syndrome
• Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
• Behavioral Disorders
• Blindness and Visual Impairment
• Cognitive Impairment
• Developmental Delays
• Emotional Disturbance
• Hearing Impairment
• Orthopedic Impairment
• Sensory Integration Dysfunction
• Specific Learning Disabilities
• Speech and Language Impairment
• Traumatic Brain Injury
You Need a Special Needs Trust and Estate Plan Because
• With a special needs trust, your child can enjoy the use of property intended to be held for his or her benefit.
• Special needs trusts provide for those who may lack the mental capacity to handle their own financial affairs.
• Estate planning offers fiscal advantages.
• Estate planning helps beneficiaries retain access to essential government benefits, including Medicaid, Social Security, and DDD services.
• Estate plans are designed to pay for products or services otherwise excluded from public funding.
• Estate planning allows you to control where your assets go after you are no longer here.
Staci J. Greenwald
In addition to her Juris Doctor (JD) degree from Seton Hall Law School. Staci Greenwald holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Speech and Hearing Sciences and is a Certified Teacher of the Handicapped. Staci represents families of students in special education matters and offers advocacy in cases involving the Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD), guardianship, and estate planning.
Mediating a Life-Changing School Choice
Parents of special needs children should be fully informed of their child’s rights so they can take part in developing appropriate strategies for educational planning.
Case Study Background
A bright child, but with ADHD and dyslexia, Jessica was able to keep on par with her peers from kindergarten through third grade, but by fourth grade, reading and written language difficulties were affecting her academic performance. An auditory processing issue caused her to misperceive social nuances. Jessica began to struggle both academically and socially. Her self-esteem was slipping. She was often anxious, and said she “felt stupid.” Academically, Jessica slipped two to three years behind her classmates, and was facing even tougher struggles as middle school approached.
Jessica began spending a significant amount of time in the school nurse’s office to avoid class. “Why can’t I do what the other kids do?” she’d ask at home. Jessica’s frustration and loss of self-esteem continued until one day she told a classmate that she really hated school, adding, “I think I’m just going to kill myself.” Fortunately, Jessica’s cry for help was heard. The family was now in crisis, and needed a quick and comprehensive solution to ensure Jessica’s well-being.
Sussan, Greenwald & Wesler’s Solution
Staci recommended a complete neuropsychological evaluation, which resulted in the recommendation of a small class, multi-sensory teaching approach for Jessica. When approached, her school district said it was unable to provide this environment and offered to place Jessica in an out-of-district special education school. When Jessica’s parents disagreed with the district’s choice of school for their daughter, Staci worked collaboratively with the school district, avoiding a costly and lengthy court case, and resolved the issue of school placement to the satisfaction of Jessica and her family.
Happily for everyone, today Jessica’s parents say they have a new kid on their hands. Jessica wakes in the morning eager to go to school. At the end of the day, she does her homework independently. Over the last three years, Jessica has made good friends, participates in extracurricular activities, and had the lead in a school play. In sixth grade, Jessica was selected as most improved student. By eighth grade, she was functioning at almost a high school level in all academic areas, graduated from her out-of-district school and was re-integrated into her home district’s high school. Because Staci successfully mediated with the school district, Jessica was placed in the learning environment she needed to grow and flourish.
Jayne M. Wesler
As a lawyer, a psychotherapist, and a former child study team member, Jayne Wesler’s experience makes her uniquely qualified to represent special needs students. Ms. Wesler received her law degree from Seton Hall Law School, her Master’s Degree in Clinical Social Work from NYU, and Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work from Georgian Court University.
Collaborating to Achieve an Early Resolution
Our goal is to advocate for the special needs child and their family.
Case Study Background
Alyssa had been experiencing depression and anxiety for months, finally becoming so acute that it resulted in acts of self-injury. She avoided school, displayed symptoms of an eating disorder, and withdrew from her circle of friends. Eventually, Alyssa verbalized suicidal thoughts and was hospitalized. Alyssa’s parents realized that a significant intervention was needed. A psychotherapist referred Alyssa to an eight week wilderness program. Children in the program usually make progress identifying their core issues, and are often then referred to a residential therapeutic school.
As Alyssa was not classified as an emotionally disturbed child, she and her family did not qualify for many intervention programs. Comprehensive prevention and early intervention approaches have proven to be effective in enabling school communities to decrease the frequency and intensity of youth behavior problems. Approximately 5 to 20 percent of students like Alyssa will need more intensive interventions to decrease their high-risk behaviors. Many of these students can be detected and helped through the intervention and referral services process (I&RS).
Sussan, Greenwald & Wesler’s Solution
Jayne requested that the school district evaluate Alyssa and develop an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) and then worked on Alyssa’s behalf to put into place all of the necessary protocols to provide her with an appropriate program. All public school children who receive special education and related services must have an IEP. The IEP creates an opportunity for teachers, parents, school administrators, and related services personnel to pool knowledge, experience and commitment to design a program that guides the delivery of special education supports and services for the student with a disability. An IEP is a requirement of the IDEA.
Without a doubt, writing and implementing an effective IEP requires teamwork. Jayne contacted the school district’s attorney and initiated the collaborative process of developing an IEP on Alyssa’s behalf. She continued to work with Alyssa’s parents and all of the professionals involved so that Alyssa could learn coping skills and apply them in her every day life. Jayne knows that nothing succeeds like success, and this became apparent as Alyssa and her family began to see progress. Today, Alyssa is receiving the education and support she needs in an out-of-district day school.
As a lawyer and a former certified speech and language pathologist, Lenore Boyarin is uniquely qualified to advocate on behalf of her clients in forums ranging from the Office of Administrative Law to the federal courts. Ms. Boyarin passionately advocates for the needs of special education students throughout the state. She is a member of the Child and Adolescent Committee of the Brain Injury Association of New Jersey, and is working with the Governor’s Task Force on Traumatic Brain Injury and Special Education. Lenore earned a Master of Science Degree in Speech Pathology and Audiology at Ithaca College, and a Bachelor of Science Degree in Education and Speech Pathology at Brooklyn College. She holds her JD degree from New York Law School.
Changing the Trajectory of a Child’s Life
At Sussan, Greenwald & Wesler, our primary focus is ensuring your special needs child receives the educational opportunities he or she is entitled to.
Case Study Background
5-year old Charlie made eye contact. Lenore was able to interest him in playing; he took her hand and gave a hug. They shared attention with each other, and with the toys. Charlie is atypical for many children on the autism spectrum. After a career as a speech and language pathologist, and with a degree in early childhood education, Lenore approaches her young clients from an intuitive as well as diagnostic perspective. One of the greatest things about the practice, Lenore feels, is that each attorney meets each child they represent, so no child is ever just a case file. Meeting and interacting with a child can open up new possibilities for interventions that can change the trajectory of a child’s life.
Neuro-typical children look at the same object or situation and have two different reactions, and neither is wrong. Children on the autism spectrum don’t experience things the same way. Post-institutional adoptees who have experienced an early deprivation of language and touch have similar issues transitioning from one grade to another, and then to adulthood. Ours is the art of creating dynamic change among all parties – children, parents, teachers, special education professionals, and school districts – to achieve success for the student. Lenore makes her decisions on which special education advocates to bring to the team based on what she has read in the child’s file, but also by applying her own experience, common sense, and intuition to the situation.
Sussan, Greenwald & Wesler’s Solution
Parents don’t usually seek out a law firm when things are going well. All the research shows that the earlier and more intensive the intervention, the greater the positive change in the course of education, the more win-win the situation, especially for the child with special needs.
The firm’s goal is to achieve what sets each child up for the best future success, and the response to that is different for each child. The overall goal for the attorneys, the school districts, and the parents is to achieve an appropriate education for each child in the least restrictive environment. Collectively, we determine the bullseye for each child, and work collaboratively to achieve this perfect balance.
Alex Hilsen received his law degree from Widener University School of Law and his undergraduate degree from Nyack College. He is a member of the New Jersey State Bar. Alex has advanced legal training in Special Needs Planning and experience at Fortune 500 companies where as a General Securities Representative, Investment Advisor, and Life Insurance Advisor, he advised clients on investing and financial planning.
Estate Planning Brings Families Peace of Mind
Our attorneys are happy to discuss the process for setting up a special needs trust to benefit your child now and in the future.
Case Study Background
A family with a neuro-typical son and a daughter with multiple disabilities needed to find a balance to protect any inheritance in the name of their daughter, while also providing for their son. An additional objective was to shelter their daughter’s future assets so that she could continue to be eligible for Medicaid and other government benefits. By establishing trusts and other vehicles, Alex successfully created appropriate vehicles to designate assets for each child, while minimizing fees and inheritance tax liability.
Alex knows that planning for a child’s future is difficult for most parents, even in the best of circumstances. Each family’s situation is unique. For this family, issues of estate planning and guardianship, choosing a suitable trustee, and protecting the family’s assets was complicated. Even for families whose children have no disabilities, proactively consulting a legal and financial expert like Alex can preserve a tremendous amount of money for this future generation.
Sussan, Greenwald & Wesler’s Solution
Whether a family’s income is high or modest, and whether or not the family has children with special needs, estate planning is the only way to shelter as much money as possible while paying the smallest amount of fees and taxes. An estate plan maps out who will protect and care for surviving children, where the money is going to come from, and how it is going to be spent. Guardianship is another important issue to consider for parents of special needs children who will need someone to manage their funds, future living arrangements, and health care choices in the future.
Alex developed a strategy to shelter substantial real estate holdings and other assets for this family. An irrevocable life insurance trust created future revenue for the children, while avoiding $160,000 in New Jersey inheritance tax. A professional trustee was put into place, someone who will capably handle finances while understanding the requirements and special wishes of the child with special needs. A power of attorney and a healthcare directive were implemented. And because no one knows their children better than their parents, Alex worked with the parents to develop a Letter of Intent, memorializing the parent’s knowledge of their children’s needs to help future caregivers, guardians, and trustees provide the best possible care.
Greer understands, from both a personal and a legal perspective, the challenges that parents of children with special needs face. Her passion for supporting children and their families stems from her experience with the special needs of her own five children.
Greer graduated from Harvard College in 1991 with a degree in English. She earned her law degree from Harvard Law School in 1994. Before devoting her practice to advocating for children with special needs, Greer practiced corporate law and litigation in Manhattan. She is a member of the New Jersey Bar, and was admitted to the New York Bar in 1994.
Greer’s strengths include her negotiation experience and writing ability. She also presents to parents, and has facilitated support groups for caregivers of children with autism. She has worked diligently for over a decade to forge productive relationships between New Jersey school district members and parents. Greer’s compassion for parents and children fuels her uncommon perseverance.
Typical Client Cases
“My son had a concussion and hasn’t been himself for months. The teachers expect him to go to school because they see him laughing with his friends, but he can’t focus and he’s falling behind. The school won’t excuse his work. My son’s doctor told the school that my son needs time to heal, but the school won’t listen. My son is becoming anxious and depressed. He’s falling so far behind, he’s afraid he will never graduate and won’t get into college.”
“My son is being bullied. Several days a week he refuses to go to school and his grades have fallen. The school doesn’t seem to see the bullying happening. My son is afraid to go to school with people who say they are going to ‘find him,’ but the school tells me that if my son doesn’t attend class, they will “sue me” because there are truancy laws. I don’t know what to do....”
“My daughter has an Individualized Educational Plan (IEP). She is getting straight A’s, but when I quiz her at home, she doesn’t seem to be able to answer the questions. I am afraid that the teachers are just passing her so they don’t have to deal with her. She tends to shut down in class, but I think it’s because she doesn’t understand what’s going on. The school is starting to suggest that sometimes my daughter simply chooses not to try. I know that’s not my daughter.”
For more than 40 years, our attorneys at Sussan, Greenwald & Wesler have committed themselves to a thorough understanding of the laws that govern special education. Our legacy of service to special needs children has led us to amass a vast library on the law as it applies to special education. Whether you need more information before contacting us, or you just want to know more about special education and developmental disorders, we invite you to take advantage of our digital resources by visiting www.special-ed-law.com
Theresa Sullivan Paralegal
Theresa holds an Applied Science Degree in Paralegal Studies. She is well-versed in reviewing and analyzing special education cases, providing second chair trial assistance, preparation of winning trial briefs, and case negotiations and settlements. Theresa demonstrates a remarkable acumen in pinpointing pertinent issues in special education cases.